Stormy Six

UN CONCERTO
SSB 004
SENSIBLE
Release date 1995

CD

“Con l'esercizio / non è niente: / solo, ci vuole / la passione" “With practice / it becomes nothing / it's just that you need / passions": these are lyrics drawn from Panorama, one of the songs performed by Stormy Six at Milan's Teatro Orfeo on May 10th, 1993, during their first concert after ten years of absence. If isolated from their original context, these words seem to suggest how the band succeeded in so powerfully resuming songs they hadn't performed for so long. The Milan concert has not set the precedent for an actual rejoining, seen that the group has performed only in three other circumstances till now. The first was an unplugged preview, a week before the Milan concert, held at Radio Popolare and followed by a five interview in which the musicians had the opportunity to answer the many listeners who called in at the radio station. Later Stormy Six participated with other bands at a concert in Bari, and lastly, on December 12th, 1994 gave another acoustic performance at the Centro Sociale Leoncavallo. Since current times seem no better than those which brought the group to a break-up, it is difficult to foresee whether Fabbri, Fiori, Leddi, De Martini, Garau, Martini and Albani will find a way to somehow continue a common project. Yet these musicians have always expressed such sensibility in their understanding of the relationships between music and politics, creativity and activism, between the lyric and the everyday, that a renewal of their activity would represent a guarantee on the next seasons, a critical conscience of sounds to come, a precious potential rarely found in recent times, times in which the discourse around music has not held up as hoped. Today's Stormy Six wouldn't need to stress the nostalgic element and would be too wise to look at us just from the porthole of the avant-garde. In this bond's history we find the evidence of intellectual passion and honesty in the exploration of the political identity of song-form, in the experimentation of formal complexity, in the return to a more direct approach, derived from the essentiality of rock music. Their concerts were expressions of the will not to exclude any type of audience and any kind of relation with it, therefore without serving the products that the cultural industry dished out on the right and on the left. This is why the performances worked equally well in squares of small Sicilian towns, in austere German theatres, in factories and in cultural centers, and not only: Venice's Biennale invites them to play at the Conservatory for a programme dedicated to Horns Eisler, while in Forlimpopoli someone tries to employ the group as a kind of ballroom combo; for the musical season in Como they are playing with Henry Cow, while in Calabria they are opening for Claudio Villa' Music and lyrics drew from folk expression, from (common knowledge), from the strength of parody and musical syncretism, Paradoxically, the impure aesthetics of such idioms met other resistances: firstly the ideological resistances of the keepers)) of struggle song, alarmed by the lack of conformism to the genre's orthodox elements (who went as for as considering UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM, though it might seem incredible today, expression of rightist deviation"), and then the snob resistances of the fans of "complication”, not at all sure that their favourite music could tolerate Italian lyrics and spontaneous, direct and non virtuosistic singing. Stormy Six's record production was always the expression of an ongoing project, an updating of reality, a painful and joyous questioning of the present. And this since their debut; when beat pop and folk were mixed together - from Oggi Piango to Leone, from the political country rock of L'Unit to the internationalism of GUARDA GIU' DALLA PIANURA - through to the important turning points that followed. To give a stupid but clear example, it would have been as if the Small Faces through the years hod become Henry Cow, and the obvious absurdity of this gives you on idea of the peculiarity of the journey mode by Stormy Six.' L'Orchestra was an important attempt to deepen their reflection on all the activities connected to musical production. Since 1975, the cooperative chaired by Franco Fabbri was involved in various activities, from the realization of a record label to independent concert organization, from musical education to distribution of materials. L'Orchestra was born on the premise, already shared by the group, that who was making music at that time had to set himself as subject in front of all that represented the so called "movement" and not solely to a single organization. For various and complex reasons, such ambition was not reached at all times. Nonetheless, it was I'Orchestra that published the five most significant works of Stormy Six. To begin with UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM (1975), in which the vibrant recalling of pages of the Italian Resistance, halfway between militant apologue and lyric ballad, tuned in with the moss antifascist practice of the Seventies. This was c work in which music maintained its folk prerogatives but already showed progressive elements, with a musical undertext foreign to many stylistic conventions and a different use of traditional instruments like the violin and mandolin. UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM seems today as a monument to socialist realism, but at that time within the Movement it was seen as an extremely transgressive work [ ... ] compared to their abstract idea of political music. This did not prevent Stalingrado from becoming a widely popular song, unfailingly sung in chorus – violin parts included! - at every demonstration, but the incredible success of this Ip, distributed only through alternative channels, fortunately did not lead the musicians to rest on their laurels. In fact CLICHE' (1976), featuring programme music commissioned by theatrical groups and featuring the participation of jazz musicians Guido Mazzon and Tony Rusconi, moved Stormy Six elsewhere, for from expectations, and definitely outside the circles of committed singer/songwriters or the role of mere "team of artistic propaganda", at a time when revolutionary activism and the participation in certain political organizations would have required the contrary. The challenge was that this was an entirely instrumental record, filled with commonplaces and linguistic stereotypes, where signature tunes, fanfares and marches peeped in from now and then, sneering at the tackily political titles of the songs. There was a period, say from the beginning of the Seventies until 197.5-76, when the so-called "free radios) did not exist or were just beginning. The world of media at that time was largely dominated by the RAI monopoly, which was different from what it is now, and by newspapers and the press in general, which too was for the most part different from now [ ...] And so, when Stormy Six arrived from Milan in the most varied Italian regions, in particular in the so-called "white regions” Veneto and the South - they represented not only a musical voice and not only the political song but also someone who come from a place where things (were happening) Grid could tell about a real and direct experience. This (storyteller's function) was present even though our songs were not storyteller's songs: one of the roles of Stormy Six was also to create such connections [ ... ] In 1977 the situation was already very very different and so this mechanism would not at all have been possible. And it was exactly in 19 77 that L'APPRENDISTA, an extraordinary meeting point of all the souls of the gong, sanctioned the definite detachment from the folk matrix. The lyrics, never reduced to mere slogans, draw their power from idiomatic expressions, dialectal forms and distortions of the obvious. The themes involved - the times of life and work, the simplicity of need, the myth of travel, the petty bourgeois ideology, the youth condition - represent a successful interpretation of apparently private situations from a political point of view, and they once again search for the historical solution, which is hard to find in the present of "un'Italia scassata e feroce senza più forma e senza voce “a beaten up and ferocious Italy / Now without form and without voice”. In an extremely personal way, the music comes nearer to that of the most advanced bands of European progressive rock. A long quote from the cover notes is worth reading: Who followed our work cannot expect that L'APPRENDISTA will glide over the lost two years, in a voyage from Stalingrad to Stalingrad. "Nothing stays the some, contradiction moves everything", says L'orchestra dei fischietti. Our songs are no exception; this does not mean that L'APPRENDISTA disavows UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM, but certainly this record is also borne, in many ways, out of a negation of the other. Stalingrado, possibly our best known song, come out of a cultural and political climate (it was written in 1973) very different from today's. That song was our answer to a certain demand from the movement, it was addressed to a specific public, but already other songs in the same album were trying to criticize the quality of such demand and the habits of that public, they were "leaps" that threw the record off balance, that tended to deviate from the common direction of struggle song. The question here is not that we want to bury the struggle song per se, but that during these years it has become increasingly difficult to write them. The crisis of the "movement" the appearance of new subjects, of new forms of organization, the "electoral turning points" along with numerous other elements (not lastly the appearance of a "leftist song") fattened by the record majors, prolixly attending to required themes [ ... ] with its veneer of committment) today form a context in which the struggle song - at least in its traditional form risks to become placed out emptied, inadequate to its function. We believe that song can and should play a more important rote than the cherry on top of a coke of political struggles, and for this reason we have tried to communicate with you on political themes, but in a less official way. 1977 should also be remembered for the birth of Rock in Opposition, a cartel that gathered European musicians who shared a common orientation towards research, cooperation and total self-management. Such bonds sung in their own languages and drew from their own musical traditions (celebrating cultural diversities in the general field of "rock" and at the some time were open to the most diverse influences (not lastly reciprocal ones) and associations. The best description of their work can be found in the programme notes that Umberto Fiori wrote for the 1979 Rock in Opposition festival held in Milan: These musics are open, fertile, syncretized, and share especially the spur towards innovation but also a taste for parody, for the absurd, for the use of contrasting elements, the presentation not of a music but of painfully disparate and empty musics, the attention towards the performance's visual aspect, towards "presence", strong communicative energy, use of unusual instruments for a rock bond [ ... ] and the "estranged" use of more traditional elements as the drums or the electric guitar. That extraordinarily rich phase in the career of Stormy Six allowed them the possibility to perform for Europe's most varied audiences, an element which contributed in the formulation of their most ambitious project yet: MACCHINA MACCHERONICA (1980). This epithet, sometimes placed alongside their official name, stood for the production of stylistic tangles, musical quibbles and diagonal lyrics. Structures become complex, featuring a wide use of wind instruments and of improvisation. But precisely because macaronic music claimed to be (something that is neither fish, nor flesh, nor fowl), this allowed for irresistible "leisure moments) like the Madonina Variations or the pantomime (halfway between a Brutos performance and the rites of the classical avant-gardes) of Enzo. Somario instead took up part of the overture commissioned at the end of 19 76 by the Teatro dell'Elfo for the musical Pinocchio Bazaar, directed by Gabriele Salvatores. For Stormy Six’s return on stage, that overture has been rearranged for string quintet. It is this version that we hear on the cd, as a kind of watershed between UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM and AL VOLO. MACCHINA MACCHERONICA (which was awarded by German critics as rock album of the year, beating Police) is the climax of Stormy Six's attempt to invent a music that could be complex without being complicated: Our dream (was) to succeed in doing something at the highest possible level of research and doing it for a completely different audience than the one that listened to experimental music, art music or the avant-garde. If heard today, AL VOLO (1982) seems instead an omen for the times that followed, and perhaps the reasons for the band's break-up con be retraced here. The record testified to a new return towards the songform: as one of the pieces says, "questo posto dove ritornava ero in qualche modo casa sua” ("this; place were he was coming back to somehow was his home”). MACCHINA MACCHERONICA and L'APPRENDISTA were two eminently experimental records, in which we tested and attempted languages, but there was also - especially in MACCHINA MACCHERONICA - 0 stronger attention for the instrumental aspect of the music, which led us for from the realm of song. [ ... ] AL VOLO was in some way a step backwards, but it also was a way to bring together oil our energies around something clear and simple, a song-form. UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM and AL VOLO have this in common, that among the things we hove done they are the ones which most resemble songs, though they sometime contain very complex instrumental parts [ ... ] With AL VOLO we came very close to a synthesis at a higher level but of the same kind of UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM, in other words something in which words and music don't need intellectualization but hove c natural meeting point. In the light of such statements, it is not difficult to understand why for the Orfeo concert Stormy Six chose to perform eight out of the nine cuts from UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM (plus the arrangement for string quartet of the title song) and the entire selection from AL VOLO (half of which is featured on this cd). The lyrics written by Umberto Fiori for the latter don't recur to "big words)), but contain the breadth of reasonings, chose a poetics of absence, of estrangement, transmitting a restlessness and an uneasiness that many would recognize as their own (to quote from Parole grosse: «Ma forse vivere è un termine un po' forte / per quello che facciamo ogni giorno» ("But maybe living is too strong G term 1 for what we do everyday"). The arrangement does without winds and strings and the sounds inhabit the rock song's scenarios, relating to the lyrics' poetics and essentiality. The previously unreleased Goal dates back to the same period as AL VOLO and it says: "Un giorno ci sveglieremo e non saremo noi” “One day we will wake up and will no longer be ourselves”. Laughing over this phrase, at the eve of their return on stage, members of Stormy Six preferred to see it as a profecy of their break-up, but its link to the band's history is quite clear even when they speak seriously: I think that this line referred to the idea of revolution, an idea that 1 believe has not been put aside after the various European revolutions have foiled. The idea of a total renewal and of the possibility of changing the world with what we do is specifically Western and European, and I don't think we will ever free ourselves from it Therefore, in our own small, medium and medium-large way we hove hod this some temptation. "One day we will wake up and will no longer be ourselves" in the sense that we had a dream of completely renewing everything. At c certain point, it turns out to be a condemnation. After the band's break-up their activities were limited to the Cassix experiment in 1983 (Fabbri, Fiori and Martini with Chris Cutler, Heiner Goebbels and Alfred Harth from Cassiber) and to a few solo projects, as if the single musicians had perceived that it was impossible to do the same things with other people and in different ways. Some members of Stormy Six, coherently with what they declared years before to the Impetus magazine ("We prefer to work in other ways, less music related teaching, writing -, than to play music that we don't like), have dedicated themselves to other activities, while other members hove made out of music a profession as artisans, (as a carpenter might do), Throughout the years the national press did take the band into consideration, though maybe not as much as it deserved, perhaps only grasping the shadow of the meaning of such an important project. Yet today, even though all their records are for from being reissued on cd, one has the impression that with time Stormy Six have acquired a kind of moral quality, a rare capacity to speak directly and in depth, recognized in unique artists as Nanni Moretti and Ken Loach. This is demonstrated by how the lyrics of their song collection have been permanently engraved in the memory of many, and hove become a legacy to an entire community. It is demonstrated by their capacity to move deeply without needing to be consolatory, and by the way that terms such as "cisterns", (spindles), (concrete mixers" and "low-income houses”) somehow become lyrical. And so the' idea was hanging in the air, the opportunity timely and unrepeatable: Stormy Six had left us without producing a live record, even though most maintain that they were definitely at their best when in concert. At the some time, the total unavailability of their most significant works left a void that needed to be filled. This cd somehow responds to both necessities, since it is a live performance but also features songs as they were originally recorded, for example reviving the acoustic arrangements of UN BIGLIETTO DEL TRAM: We hadn't played those pieces with the original instruments for many years [ ... ] The orchestration was modified substantially over time and we had played them with different arrangements, at one point in electric versions. For the concert in Milan we decided to play the songs with the original instruments: acoustic guitars, the violins we used then, mandolins, there is even is a vintage balalajka played by Tommaso Leddi, an instrument that has traveled with us quite a bit on the road. Those songs were born this way, though Stormy Six once was a pop bond and played electric guitars... So, there are few differences from the old versions on record: the most relevant ones are found in Ragionamenti (on the cd only the instrumental introduction is included, linked to Panorama), in the violin part of Un biglietto del tram (kept from the adaptation for string quartet made in 1993) and the added parts in the endings of Stalingrado (already used in 1978, before De Martini left the bond) and Piazza degli Affari (a song conceived in the recording studio, but extended when played live), besides, of course, the different timbre colourings of the electric part of the concert, particularly of the keyboard sounds, which are the first ones to age. Right, because after all it is especially this that makes a rock album sound dated. All in all the genre has not undergone great evolutions: the main changing factor has been timbre. Every period has (is) its own sound, determined by the way the voice is recorded, the guitar is modified, the drums are amplified... It would make sense to say that Stormy Six were ahead of their times if at a certain point the "times" had assimilated that way of making music and made it their own. But it was not so. While Italy discoverd the pop festivals, the bond was looking to the American (especially Guthrie) and British (Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger, London Critics' Group) protest song. When commercial political song become extremely fashionable (encouraged by the P.C.I.), Stormy Six chose another direction rather than take advantage of the situation. While rock continued to rely on the usual four chords, they were drawing from other musical languages and traditions. Heard today, their songs have the unique characteristic of not sounding musically dated (because they are not referable to any particular period in the history of rock, pop or whatever it may be) and at the same time of being deeply grounded in the historical moments when they were written, especially through the lyrics (though it must be said that at least the words of Al VOLO have a more universal value, which goes beyond their time). The cd ends on some of the best themes that Tommaso Leddi has written for the bond, performed by the string quintet directed by Carlo De Martini. Without interruption we hear fragments of “il barbiere” from L'APPRENDISTA, of Picnic (composed with De Martini) from CLICHE' and of Megafono from MACCHINA MACCHERONICA. All these excepts are contained within Carmine, a song from L'APPRENDISTA which concludes: "mentre Carmine canto noi siamo ancora un popolo" "While Carmine sings we are still a people". Paolo Chang and Alessandro Achilli (translated by Melinda Mele)